By Svante E. Cornell
April 18, 2022
In January 2022, Kazakhstan went through an unprecedented crisis. While it was since overshadowed in the eyes of the world by the events in Ukraine, Kazakhstan’s crisis marked a turning point in the country’s history and will have considerable implications for Central Asia. This analysis of the events and their implications, building on an attached chronology of events, concludes that while the initial peaceful public protests were the result of socio-economic frustrations that had long been building in the country, the violent turn of events was the result of a premeditated effort to unseat President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev. While the exact nature of this challenge remains unclear, what is clear is that it resulted from resistance to Tokayev’s reform agenda among the forces that benefited from the political and economic system he sought to reform. While the crisis raised concerns regarding Kazakhstan’s future course in both domestic and foreign policy realms, evidence thus far suggests the contrary: President Tokayev has redoubled his commitment to reform and to the country’s sovereignty and independence, promising to build a “New Kazakhstan.” As the U.S. and EU recalibrate their regional strategies in the wake of the war in Ukraine, learning the right lessons from Kazakhstan’s January crisis will be of utmost importance.
By Richard Weitz
April 11, 2022
The resistance of Kazakhstan’s government to supporting the Kremlin’s war in Ukraine shows that, despite the brief Russian military intervention in Kazakhstan in January 2022, Kazakhstan still pursues a multi-vector foreign policy. Western governments can reinforce this stance, by which Kazakhstan strives to cooperate with all major powers while preventing the hegemony of any, through targeted support and other measures.
By Natalia Konarzewska
February 11, 2022, the CACI Analyst
On January 18, Kazakhstan’s former president Nursultan Nazarbayev gave a first video-recorded speech to the nation since the deadly unrest that shook the country in early January. In his address, Nazarbayev vehemently denied that there was any struggle for power in Kazakhstan’s top political echelons and called for supporting incumbent president Kassym-Jomart Tokayev. Yet there are many indicators that Nazarbayev, his family members and close associates are currently losing their posts in the state apparatus while president Tokayev concentrates his powers. The fast pace by which Nazarbayev’s legacy is dismantled by his successor in the aftermath of the recent deadly turmoil and CSTO intervention suggests that Kazakhstan’s carefully planned and micromanaged succession of power might have failed.
By Albert Barro and Svante E. Cornell
Deceber 14, 2021, the CACI Analyst
While the political aspects of reforms in Kazakhstan have gained considerable attention, economic reforms are an equally strong focus of President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev’s policy agenda. Building on the initiatives developed by his predecessor, President Tokayev has implemented plans that serve to diversify Kazakhstan’s economy. Key measures include the development of agriculture, as well as the strengthening of manufacturing, in order to make Kazakhstan a bread-basket of Central Asia as well as a producer of household goods.
Tokayev’s Reforms: An Evolutionary Model of Change?
By: Svante E. Cornell and Albert Barro
Much ink has been spilled in recent decades on the failures of democratization in the Middle East and Central Asia. Indeed, for over a decade and a half, Freedom House and other democracy watchdogs have been documenting a clear regression of dem-ocratic development. This has happened not only in countries considered in “transition”, but also in established democracies, where authoritarian tendencies have, unexpectedly, returned.
The Middle East and Central Asia have proven particularly resistant to democratic development. The resilience of authoritarian systems of govern-ment in these regions caused considerable frustra-tion, which switched to great excitement when popular revolutions against corrupt and dysfunc-tional government took place between 2003 and 2011. The wave of revolutions began in Georgia, followed by Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan, upheavals quickly dubbed “color revolutions.” These were followed several years later by the 2011 “Arab spring”, which similarly generated great hope that democracy had finally come to the Middle East.
Except it did not work out that way. The color revolutions and Arab upheavals must now be termed a failure, as no country that experienced these upheavals has progressed in a sustainable way toward democracy. Some, like Libya, Syria and Yemen have descended into civil war. Others, like Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan, experienced recur-rent political crises while continuing to be mired in corruption. For some time, Georgia and Tunisia appeared to go against the grain, and make sus-tained progress – but in recent years, those two have also backtracked. All in all, it seems clear that revolution is not a sustainable model to change entrenched authoritarian habits.
The Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst is a biweekly publication of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program, a Joint Transatlantic Research and Policy Center affiliated with the American Foreign Policy Council, Washington DC., and the Institute for Security and Development Policy, Stockholm. For 15 years, the Analyst has brought cutting edge analysis of the region geared toward a practitioner audience.